The gong sounded. All stood up again with clasped hands, and again Looney suffered while Clem joined in the grace. As the boys marched out at one door, Alfred looked back and caught sight of Lizzie departing flushed and torpid with the infants after her struggle to make a “clean plate” of her legal pound of flesh and solid dough. In the afternoon he was sent to enjoy the leisure of school with his “standard,” or to creep about in the howling chaos of play-time in the yard. After tea he was herded with four hundred others into a day-room quite big enough to allow them to stand without touching each other. Hot pipes ran round the sides under a little bench, and the whitewashed walls were relieved by diagrams of the component parts of a sweet pea and scenes from the life of Abraham. As usual an attempt was made at hide-and-seek under strange conditions. Some inglorious inventor had solved the problem of playing that royal game in an empty oblong room. His method was to plant out the “juniors” in clusters or copses on the floor, whilst the “seniors” lurked and ran and hunted in and out their undergrowth. To add zest to the chase, Clem now let Looney slip as a kind of bag-fox, and the half-witted creature went lumbering and blubbering about in real terror of his life, whilst his pursuers encouraged his speed with artifices in which the animated spinnies and coverts deferentially joined. Unnoticed and lonely in the crowd, Alfred was almost sorry he was not half-witted too.
At last he was marched off to his dormitory with fifty-five others, and lay for a long time listening with the fascination of innocence whilst Clem in a low voice described with much detail the scenes of “human nature” which he had recently witnessed down hopping with his people. Almost before he was well asleep, as it seemed, the strange new life began again with the bray of a bugle and the flaring of gas, and he had to hurry down to the model lavatory to wash under his special little jet of warm spray, so elaborately contrived in the hope of keeping ophthalmia in check.
So, with drills and scrubbings and breakfasts and schools, the great circles of childhood’s days and nights went by, each distinguished from another only by the dinner and the Sunday services. And from first to last the pauper child was haunted by the peculiar pauper smell, containing elements of whitewash, damp boards, soap, steam, hot pipes, the last dinner and the next, corduroys, a little chlorate of lime, and the bodies of hundreds of children. It was not unwholesome.